EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the second column in a three-part series on Mormonism.
ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–In the 1990s I had a friend who was a former bishop in a local ward of the Mormon church. He and his wife were wonderful people and I still regard them as personal friends.
In 1997, he asked that I come to their home and listen to two Mormon missionaries. I went and when they began giving their presentation, I interrupted and said, “If Mormonism is true, I want to know everything about it. However, if it isn’t true, I really don’t care about all of its history and beliefs. So, would you mind if we focus on whether Mormonism is true?” They agreed and after a little further discussion we scheduled for all of us to return in a week’s time and discuss the evidence. While they did their homework, I did mine. In this article, I’ll share two of my findings that led me to conclude that Mormonism is a false religion.
My first discovery is that there is no specific confirmation of the Book of Mormon from archaeology. I phoned one of Brigham Young University’s top Book of Mormon archaeologists and asked him whether any archaeological finds had confirmed anything in the Book of Mormon. He was cordial and to my surprise answered that there is no archaeological evidence that can be tied directly to the peoples and events described in the Book of Mormon. I placed a second call to BYU and this time spoke with a second Book of Mormon archaeologist. This man was also very friendly and honest, and likewise told me that no real evidence exists that specifically ties the peoples and events of the Book of Mormon to the known world. Keep in mind that both of these are practicing Mormons who are professional Book of Mormon archeologists.
What is interesting is that Mormon missionaries and Mormons in the pew are all told by the Mormon church that a number of archaeological discoveries have confirmed the truth of the Book of Mormon, while Book of Mormon archaeologists at BYU are making statements to the contrary.
My second discovery was that the Book of Abraham, which is counted among the Mormon scriptures, discredits founder Joseph Smith as a true prophet. In 1835, Smith purchased some mummies that were accompanied by some ancient Egyptian papyri. Smith claimed to be able to translate the papyri because they were written in Egyptian, very similar to the “Reformed Egyptian,” which Smith claimed was the language of the Book of Mormon. As he translated the manuscripts, he asserted it contained the Book of Abraham, a book written by Abraham himself.
The papyri for the Book of Abraham contained some drawings with Egyptian writing that were subsequently published in Times and Seasons, a Mormon newspaper. The papyri were lost after Smith’s death in 1844 but were rediscovered in 1967 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York who returned them to the Mormon church which in turn confirmed them to be the originals and published them for others to see. A Mormon academic journal named “Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought” asked three prominent Egyptologists to translate the papyri. If Joseph Smith was a true prophet, the contemporary translation would be very close to Smith’s. The stakes were high, since the translations of the Egyptologists either could confirm Joseph Smith as a true prophet or expose him as a charlatan. For if Joseph Smith was terribly wrong in his translation of the Book of Abraham, it casts doubt on the Book of Mormon, too.
John Wilson and Klaus Baer, both professors of Egyptology at the University of Chicago, and Richard Parker, a professor of Egyptology at Brown University, were asked to do the task. The results were devastating. All concluded that the manuscript was a common Egyptian document buried with mummies for guidance in the afterlife and was not used until at least a thousand years after Abraham. They also concluded that Smith’s translation did not bear the slightest resemblance to the actual translation. This is especially important when we consider that Smith claimed that the Book of Mormon was written in the same language. Since it can be demonstrated that Smith was gravely mistaken in his translation abilities when it came to the Book of Abraham, why should anything but the same conclusion be drawn pertaining to his ability allegedly to translate the Book of Mormon?
Therefore, at best, Joseph Smith was mistaken to believe that he had the ability to translate Reformed Egyptian and, therefore, we should render the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham as unreliable. At worst, he was a fraud, and the gold plates he said he found and translated into the Book of Mormon never existed in the first place.
In other words, if Joseph Smith really believed he was divinely given the gift to translate and that the Book of Mormon contains an historical account of real peoples, he was either self-deluded or deceived. The other option is that Joseph Smith knew his claims were false. If this was the case, he was a deceiver. Deceived or deceiver? Either way, it seems pretty clear that Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God. Accordingly, despite the fact that the Mormon church embraces a few beliefs in line with biblical Christianity it is demonstrably a false religion.
Mike Licona is the director of apologetics & interfaith evangelism at the North American Mission Board. Read additional free articles on Mormonism and many other related topics at www.4truth.net.